40â€‰ways to make the spirit of Ramadan Last the whole year
Issue 72 September 2010
The end of Ramadan need not signal an end to the feeling of increased spiritual connectedness. Sarah Joseph explores 40 ways to keep the Ramadan spirit strong.
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Ramadan is a time of increased worship in our lives. In addition to the fasting, there is often an increase in other areas of worship, for instance the reading of Qur’an, and giving in charity. Keep these things up, even if it is only a small amount. The Prophet said, “The deeds most loved by God are those done regularly, even if they are small.” (Bukhari and Muslim).
1. Read a little of the Qur’an every day - you would just need to read 18 verses of the Qur’an per day to finish the whole Qur’an within the year.
2. Upload the Qur’an onto your iPod or MP3 player with a recitation by a Qari whom you find inspirational and listen to some everyday. The iQuran Pro for iPods has various Qaris, translations, as well as the ability to read in Arabic script.
3. In addition to your annual zakat and the zakat al-fitr given on Eid, perhaps sponsor a child, give a micro-finance loan to someone through an ongoing charity scheme, or find a project such as a school in a developing country where you can have a regular engagement. Such charity gives you an emotional connection to the recipient and will help you in being contented with the blessings that God has provided you.
4. Remember, fasting is not just for Ramadan; the Prophet said, “He who fasts Ramadan, and six days of Shawaal, it is as if they fasted a whole year.” (Muslim, Tirmidi, Abu Dawood, Ahmad, Ibn Maajah) Fasting is also recommended on the day of ‘Arafah (the 9th day of Dhul-Hijjah) and the 10th of Muharram. The Prophet said, “Fasting on the day of ‘Arafah expiates two years of sins, last year’s and next year’s, and fasting on the tenth of Muharram expiates the previous year’s (of sins).” (Muslim) Mondays and Thursdays are also recommended days to fast, for the Prophet said, “The deeds of the worshippers are presented before God on Monday and Thursday, I like my deeds to be presented while I am fasting.” (Nasa’I)
“Actions are judged by intentions” (Bukhari and Muslim) said the Prophet, and Ramadan helps to bring this saying fully into focus by requiring us to make the intention to fast.
5. Make an intention to act before every action. This will mean that there will be a conscious decision; and the making of conscious decisions means the brain is switched on. Conscious decision making allows us to override our routines and patterns of behaviour we have grown accustomed to, particularly our bad habits. By making sure our mind is present in our decision making process and before every action more effective control will be taken of our own lives.
6. Ramadan has the potential to reset your spiritual compass and give your life renewed direction. Create a list of the ways you wish to improve your life spiritually and in other ways. Intentions function somewhat like targets and goals in today’s modern management speak. Various studies have shown the link between having a goal, writing that goal down, telling others of the goal and success in actual attainment of the goal. Setting purpose to un-defined aspiration, having a plan with tangible targets, gives practical force to a mere hope. Remember to include ‘Insha’Allah’, God-willing, for what you intend.
Ramadan is a time of increased connections – an increased connection to God through remembrance of Him and the search to please Him, an increased connection to the Ummah through the collective act of fasting, an increased connection to the family and close friends through the shared intimacy of fasting and breaking the fast together, and an increased connection to one’s inner self by the act of fasting; stripping away externalities. Maintaining these connections after Ramadan ends requires effort.
Connecting to God
7. Incorporate ‘alhamdulillah’ into your life. Thanking and praising Him for the small bounties in your life, even in adversity, leads to gratitude and contentment. The Prophet said “Alhamdulillah is the statement of appreciation. When the servant says alhamdulillah, God says, ‘My servant has praised Me.’’’ (Ibn Abi Hatim)
8. Ask for help from Him even with the smallest with difficulties. The Prophet Musa was told to pray even for the salt on his food.
9. Reflect on God by learning His names with their meaning.
10. Make a regular time to contemplate the natural world, for it is revelation from God, “And among His Signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth.” (Qur’an 30:22)
Connecting to the Ummah
11. Connect to the wider Muslim community by travelling to a Muslim country you’ve never been to before, or if that is beyond your financial means, reach out to a different community of Muslims within your own country
12. Choose a country a month and explore its traditions and history of its people through books and online.
13. Choose a charity project abroad to support
Connecting to your family and close friends
14. Iftar is a time to eat with your family – continue to have a regular, collective family meal together.
15. Following the adage, “The family that prays together, stays together” make prayer in ja’ma regularly, spending time afterwards to reflect and talk to one another, sharing stories from Islamic history or the companions perhaps.
16. Invite others to dine with you, and accept the invitations of others for that is one of the five rights a Muslim has over another Muslim; the other four being, to return the greetings of salam, to visit the sick, to accompany funeral processions, and to respond to the one that sneezes. (Bukhari & Muslim)
17. Be the one to forgive and move on, and remember the “Three Day Rule”, for the Prophet said, “It is not allowed for a Muslim to desert his brother for over three days.” (Muslim & Tirmidhi)
18. Tell the ones you love that you love them. The Prophet said, “If one of you loves his brother for God’s sake, then let him know, since it causes familiarity to endure and firmly establishes love.” (Bukhari)
19. Put those you love first and empathise with their emotions, as the Prophet said, “Love for your brother what you love for yourself.” (Muslim)
Connecting to yourself
20. Try to find a quiet time every day to reflect on yourself that day. What did you learn from that day? What could you have done better? What were the strengths of that day? What were the weaknesses? Remember if you have had a bad day – every new dawn, brings with it new opportunities.
21. List the things that you like about yourself. We may think that would be immodest and vain, but it is worth remembering that you are a creation of the Most High, and of the best of creations. The Prophet said, “God is merciful towards the one who knows his worth” – so start listing your worth.
22. List the things that you think need changing about yourself. Think of this positively. The Prophet said that “A Muslim is a mirror to another Muslim” (Abu Dawud), but we need to be a mirror unto our own selves first.
23. Create a space which you always keep tidy, scented and beautiful. The Prophet said, “God is beautiful and He likes beauty” (Muslim), so such a space will give you a place to re-charge your batteries, and to reflect upon your inner self.
Ramadan brought discipline into your life. You did not eat or drink whenever and whatever you wanted. There was a time for these things. You had to control your instinct. Ramadan is a powerful symbol that you can control yourself, that you can set yourself a target and stick to it. Taking that discipline and control forward is potentially one of the greatest blessings of the month.
24. Do not over eat. Just because we can eat once Ramadan is over doesn’t mean we have to gorge ourselves. Obesity has been classed as the disease of the 21st century. Consider this saying of the Prophet, where the ‘one third rule’ is a concession to our desires, “No human ever filled a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any son of Adam are some morsels to keep his back straight. But if it must be, then one third for his food, one third for his drink and one third for his breath.” (Tirmidhi & others)
25.Time keep was essential during Ramadan. You watched the clock to begin and end your fasts. Do not let that slack now. The jokes about “Muslim/Arab/Pakistani/Bengali etc Mean Time having extra minutes in every hour” say something. Punctuality is important in your lives – for prayers, for appointments, for work and school. When the Prophet was asked, “Which deed is the dearest to God?” He replied, “To offer the prayers at their early stated fixed times.” (Bukhari) To fulfill obligations and appointments early rather than late will endear you to people in this world too.
26. Watch your anger. The Prophet advised, “Do not become angry”, and those who control their anger are described by the Qur’an thus, “Those who spend (in God’s cause) in prosperity and in adversity, who repress their anger, and who pardon men, verily, God loves those that do good.” (3:133-134). In Ramadan one has greater self awareness so this is perhaps easier. Outside of Ramadan follow the Prophetic three point anger management plan of making wudu, sitting or lying down. The Prophet also recommended saying, “I seek Refuge with God from Satan” when feeling angry (Bukhari) and making the dua, “I ask you O God, for truthful speech during times of pleasure and anger” (Ahmad)
27. Sleep less. Sleep is a blessing from God and you should have sufficient hours, but do not sleep more than necessary. The Qur’an describes God’s righteous servants as “They used to sleep but little of the night” (51:17) and those “Who forsake their beds to cry unto their Lord in fear and hope” (32:16)
Ramadan has taught that to achieve the target of completing the fasts one has to be steadfast in adversity. The month is a living testament to the many exhortations in the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet to have sabr – patient perseverance, and there is reward in this, “Give glad tidings to those who exercise patience when struck with adversity and say, ‘Indeed, we belong to God and to Him is our return.’ Such ones receive [the] blessings and mercy of their Lord, and such are the guided ones.” (Qur’an 2:155)
28. Patience is often lost when we try to do too many things at once. Slow down, focus and prioritise.
29. Try and establish what makes you lose patience. Are there any patterns to your loss of patience? Can you eliminate those things?
30. Inculcate hope and a positive mental attitude. The Qur’an reminds us that an attribute of Iblis is that he lost hope. Do this by focusing on small blessings in your life, and write them down.
31. God’s delays are not necessarily His denials. Maybe you have to learn something before the adversity will be removed. List what lessons you are learning from the current adversity and how it is benefiting your character.
Our response to a difficulty or a problem can be to seek a distraction. Even with Ramadan, we may seek activity, even sleep, so that we do not have to feel the hunger or the thirst. However, one can only really gain the full significance of the month by developing focus on the hunger and thirst and examining what it is trying to teach us. Without doing so we may only get, as the hadith says, “...nothing except hunger and thirst, and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness.” (Darimi) We should develop focus in every aspect of our lives in order to extract the fullest benefits.
32. Do a little bit more than you feel like doing or think you can do.
33. Remove distractions as much as possible. Identify what is a negative drain on your focus and remove it. The removal may not need to be permanent; just until it does not distract you as much.
34. Keep the objectives of your action in mind. If you are reading Qur’an set your objective for that Qur’an reading session first.
35. Enlist the support of others to help you stay focused, bearing in mind the Prophetic saying on choosing friends, “A good friend and a bad friend are like a perfume-seller and a blacksmith: The perfume-seller might give you some perfume as a gift, or you might buy some from him, or at least you might smell its fragrance. As for the blacksmith, he might singe your clothes, and at the very least you will breathe in the fumes of the furnace. (Bukhari and Muslim)
36. The breaking of the fast is a reward for the fasting person in this world, with other reward in the Hereafter. Grant yourself positive rewards when you have maintained your focus and achieved your set goal.
The body is an amanah, a trust, from God. We cannot abuse it. Fasting is actually beneficial to a healthy person. Detoxification occurs as the liver, kidney, lungs, lymph glands and skin eliminate or neutralise toxins. Fasting speeds up this process as the body breaks down fats, however health needs to be maintained all year round.
37. Think about the foods you eat. Fasting breaks down toxins, but it is better not to put in the toxins in the first place. Minimise fatty, fried, and sugary foods.
38. Do some exercise. It does not have to be difficult and you do not have to buy expensive equipment or a gym membership. A pair of walking shoes and a pedometer will make sure you do 10,000 steps a day – 3,000 of which should be aerobic.
The Qur'an reminds us "Rivalry for worldly gain will distract you until you visit your grave." (102:1-2) And the Prophet said, "If the son of Adam were given a valley full of gold, he would love to have a second one; and if he were given the second one, he would love to have a third, for nothing fills the belly of Adam‚Äôs son except dust. And God forgives he who repents to Him." (Bukhari) Finding pleasure in people, events, nature and not in things, is a way to deal with this weakness of human beings, and to find true contentment.
39. The mind is wired to work better when things are framed in the positive, so whilst it is about wanting less and giving up things, frame it mentally that it is about gaining MORE contentment.
40. Create a list of small, free things that give you peace and happiness, e.g. a walk
Ultimately, there is no end to such a list, but making the spirit of Ramadan last the whole year is about YOU and your commitment to WANTING that spirit to last the whole year. It will take effort, courage, discipline, and fortitude – but as these are the characteristics which Ramadan taught you, you can do it!